by Amber Hall
previewed on PC
Undercooked and Over Seasoned
Soulblight is a successfully Kickstarted game with a demo release of what developer My Next Games has so far. The game itself is a top-down roguelike, dungeon crawler wherein the player picks a starting trait and moves through the dungeon toward a boss. The concept is simple enough, but Soulblight is far from simple. Soulblight is a game that wants to be difficult. It wants to be punishing on the player for any mistakes yet rewarding of strategic gameplay. And that's exactly my issue with the game thus far; it wants to be much and more while also being a demo.
The Over Seasoned
While playing Soulblight, I found that I was constantly lost in everything the game kept throwing my way. There are a bunch of status effects the player can encounter, but I could never clearly figure out why these status effects were applied to my character. Moreover, negative status effects can usually be healed using items, but it's difficult to tell what item is needed as each status effect needs a specific item to be used in a specific way to be healed. These items are hard to come by, and so the rate at which I took on status effects versus how many items I found to fix them was never even close. This would be mostly fine in a truly punishing game where such things simply made you more careful, but I found that the difficulty in Soulblight came from vagueness rather than complexity.
The best example of vagueness in status effects is hunger. The player is meant to eat to stave off hunger, but to my knowledge there is no way of judging the character's level of hunger. None of the status bars show hunger and so I was never sure when to eat until the status effect had already taken hold. Like the other status effects, specific items will help remove the penalties from hunger, but these items were either difficult to come by or didn't seem to do enough to fix the effect.
Much like the status effects and how to heal them, combat is unclear at best. It is helpful that the controls for combat appear while facing an enemy, but it's unclear in other areas. Sometimes my attacks simply didn't register and I'm unsure if it was due to a lost input or unresponsive controls. This would then leave me open for enemy attacks and usually result in my death. Perhaps I could have played more carefully, but it was difficult to gauge just how much health my character had. At the game's beginning, I was told that I could only be hit four times before death, but this wasn't always true. Sometimes it would take many hits before I died and other times I was dead before I knew it. This was in part because of the many status effects I took on as I explored but also due to the vagueness in the game's HUD. There are status bars that appear when in combat, but figuring out which bar showed what information is difficult.
This vagueness applied to the enemies as well, and I was never sure when one was going to die. Many games keep enemy health hidden to create a sense of suspense in combat, but this doesn't seem like Soulblight's intention and I'm quite certain that I was simply lost by everything Soulblight was trying to do. Furthermore, some serious frame drops made dealing with enemies more of a chore than a fun challenge. I found that I either relied heavily on stealth to take enemies out or avoided them completely whenever possible.
More Development Needed
It is my opinion that Soulblight is a game that has simply gotten ahead of itself and is currently oversaturated with content for the size of its demo. Many of the issues I encountered could be solved by introducing a slower paced and clearer tutorial before tossing players into the deep end. Some of the vagueness could also be cleared up by making more recognizable status bars both during and outside of combat. Regardless, it's clear that Soulblight has a lot more development needed to make it a truly enjoyable experience. It is my hope that many improvements are made after this demo release, but at this point the core mechanics need the most focus.